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"The place 



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"The place 

A History of the First National Park 


David A. Clary 


FEB 13 ms 




Office of Publications 

National Park Service 




The Upper Geyser Basin from the cone of Old 

Faithful, taken by the pioneer photographer 

William Henry Jackson in 1872 on his second trip 

into the region with the Hayden Expedition. 





One morning in May 1834, in the northwest 
corner of Wyoming three men waited anxiously 
for the end of a night of strange noises and 
curious smells. Warren Ferris, a clerk for the 
American Fur Company, had ventured into the 
upper Yellowstone country with two Indian 
companions to find out for himself the truth 
about the wild tales trappers told about the region. 
It was a place, they said, of hot springs, water 
volcanoes, noxious gases, and terrifying vibra- 
tions. The water volcanoes especially interested 
him, and now, as dawn broke over the Upper 
Geyser Basin, Ferris looked out on an unforget- 
table scene: 

Clouds of vapor seemed like a dense fog to 
overhang the springs, from which frequent 
reports or explosions of different loudness, 
constantly assailed our ears. I immediately 
proceeded to inspect them, and might have ex- 
claimed with the Queen of Sheba, when their 
full reality of dimensions and novelty burst 
upon my view, "The half was not told me." 
From the surface of a rocky plain or table, 
burst forth columns of water, of various dimen- 
sions, projected high in the air, accompanied 
by loud explosions, and sulphurous vapors. . . . 
The largest of these wonderful fountains, pro- 
jects a column of boiling water several feet in 
diameter, to the height of more than one hun- 

dred and fifty feet accompanied with a tremen- 
dous noise. . . . I ventured near enough to put 
my hand into the water of its basin, but with- 
drew it instantly, for the heat of the water in 
this immense cauldron, was altogether too 
great for comfort, and the agitation of the 
water . . . and the hollow unearthly rumbling 
under the rock on which I stood, so ill accorded 
with my notions of personal safety, that I re- 
treated back precipitately to a respectful 

Ferris later recalled that his companions thought 
it unwise to trifle with the supernatural: 
The Indians who were with me, were quite 
appalled, and could not by any means be in- 
duced to approach them. They seemed aston- 
ished at my presumption in advancing up to the 
large one, and when I safely returned, con- 
gratulated me on my "narrow escape". . . . One 
of them remarked that hell, of which he had 
heard from the whites, must be in that vicinity. 

Ferris and his friends quickly concluded their 
excursion and went back to earning a living in the 
fur trade. They had not been the first visitors to 
this land of geyers. But they were the first who 
came as "tourists," having no purpose other than 
to see the country. 

i * 








* J! 


Members of the Hayden party, which explored 

the Yellowstone Region in 1871 and 1872. 

observe the eruption of Old Faithful. At left 

is Jackson's record of Tower Creek. 

The Lower Falls of the Yellowstone River, 
photographed by Jackson. 

A hunter with the Hayden party looks out over 

the quiet waters of Mary Bay, on the east 

side of Yellowstone Lake. Photographed 

by Jackson in 1871. 



Jackson considered Castle Geyser, in the Upper 

Geyser Basin, one of the most spectacular 

thermal features in Yellowstone. 

It was the awesome evidence of this land's 
great volcanic past that drew Ferris and his com- 
rades, and others after them, into an uncharted 
wilderness. For whatever the other attractions of 
this region — and there are many — man has re- 
acted most to this spectacle of a great dialetic of 
nature, this apparent duel between the hot earth 
and the waters that continually attempt to invade 

Seething mud pots, hot pools of delicate beauty, 
hissing vents, periodic earthquakes, and sudden, 
frightening geysers are foreign to our ordinary 
experience. But in this region a wonderful variety 
of such features, seeming to speak of powers be- 
yond human comprehension, confronts visitors 
at every turn. So it is easy to understand why 
many observers have speculated, along with the 
companions of Warren Ferris, that this may in- 
deed be near the dark region of the white man's 

Yet this Biblical metaphor, which came so 
naturally to men of the 19th century, fails to 
evoke the full sense of Yellowstone. Lt Gus- 
tavus C. Doane, who explored the country 
on the celebrated 1870 expedition, thought that 
"No figure of imagination, no description of 
enchantment, can equal in imagery the vista of 
these great mountains." There is the stately lodge- 
pole forest, the ranging wildlife, the fantastic 
geysers, and the great lake, and there is the 
mighty torrent of the Yellowstone River, the 
spectacular waterfalls, and the rugged, many-hued 
chasm from which the river and ultimately the 
region took its name. And beyond all this, there 
is Yellowstone the symbol. The notion that a 
wilderness should be set aside and perpetuated 
for the benefit of all the people — a revolutionary 
idea in 1 872 — has flowered beyond the wildest 
dreams of those wno conceived it. 

This is the story, in broadest outline, of the 
people who have visited this remarkable country, 
of their influence upon it, and of Yellowstone's 

influence upon them. It begins long ago, as all 
such stories must on the American continent, with 
the red man. 


early mark 

of man 

For more than 10,000 years people have trod the 
Yellowstone wilderness. In the beginning human 
visits were rare and brief. Those who approached 
the vicinity of Yellowstone were already many 
generations and thousands of miles removed from 
their ancestral Asian origins, and most of them 
in the early days came to the region to hunt rather 
than to live. 

The first men arrived during the decline of the 
last ice age. Their small and highly mobile popu- 
lation possessed a limited material culture and 
left little physical evidence of their presence — 
mainly distinctive stone tools and projectile points 
now classified under such terms as "Folsom" 
and "Clovis." They traveled along rivers and down 
major valleys in pursuit of such denizens of the 
ice age as the mammoth, the ancestral horse, and 
the giant bison, as well as the familiar animals of 
today. They supplemented game with berries, 
seeds, and roots. Though they were few in 
number, their weapons and tools made them 
comparatively efficient, and their hunting, 
combined with the warming of the climate, may 
have contributed to the disappearance of many 
primeval mammals. When the last glacial stage 
ended about 8,500 years ago, many animals that 
were adapted to colder, wetter conditions became 
extinct. This environmental change also altered 
the habits of man. 

As the climate in the Yellowstone region 
warmed up, the surrounding plains grew extremely 
hot and dry but mountainous areas remained well 

watered. The population in the region increased 
steadily as a new lifeway — hunting for small game 
and foraging for plants — replaced the endless 
wandering of the original hunters. Hunting could 
be done more efficiently after the small bands 
acquired the bow and arrow, and so large game 
became more prominent in the diet of man in 

By about 1 600 Yellowstone was occupied by 
semi-nomadic populations that left many stone 
tools and projectile points, domestic utensils, and 
campsites. When the horse arrived in the high 
country of the West in the late 17th century, it 
upset old Indian patterns of living, and in some 
places produced entirely new cultures. The Indians 
could now follow the bison herds and other 
gregarious game of the plains. Mountain areas, 
more difficult to travel over by horseback, rapidly 
lost much of their population. When the first 
frontiersmen came to Yellowstone in the early 
19th century, few people were living there. Only 
occasional hunting parties of Crows, Blackfeet, 
and Bannocks crossed its vastness, while small 
bands of Shoshones lived in its mountains. 

The Crows occupied the country generally east 
of the park and the Blackfeet that to the north. 
The Shoshonean Bannocks and probably other 
tribes of the plateaus to the northwest traversed 
the park annually to hunt on the plains to the 
east. But other Shoshonean groups were probably 
more influenced by the horse. They had been 
pushing northward along the eastern edge of the 
Great Basin (west and south of the park), and 
the acquisition of horses both intensified this 
movement and scattered them in diverse bands. 
About 1700 the Comanches separated themselves 
from the rest of the Western Shoshones and moved 
southeastward into the plains. Most of the Sho- 
shones hunted in the open areas west and south of 
Yellowstone. But some, either through the con- 
servatism of their culture or the lack of oppor- 
tunity, did not acquire horses. They continued to 

hunt and forage on foot in the mountains of 
Yellowstone, where there was little competition. 
A band of these people occupied the highlands 
until 1871, when they rejoined their kinsmen on 
the Wind River Reservation in west-central 
Wyoming. Because of the importance of mountain 
sheep in their diet, they had become known as 
"Sheepeaters." Their occupation left no more mark 
on the land than did the occasional visits of 
Crows, Blackfeet, or other Shoshones. After they 
left and the tribes from the outside ceased to 
hunt in Yellowstone, there remained only the 
scattered ruins of the hearth sites and brush 
lodges that had once been their simple homes. 




During the late 1 8th century those wandering 
heralds of civilization, the fur trappers, filtered 
into the upper Missouri country in search of a 
broad-tailed promise of fortune — the beaver. The 
early trappers and traders were mostly French 
Canadian, and the great tributary of the Missouri, 
the Yellowstone, first became known to white 
men by its French label, "Roche Jaune." None of 
the earliest trappers, however, seem to have ob- 
served the thermal activity in the area that would 
some day become a national park, although they 
probably learned of some of its wonders from 
their Indian acquaintances. 

The Lewis and Clark Expedition passed just 
north of Yellowstone in 1806. Though Indians 
told them of the great lake, they remained un- 
aware of the area's hot springs and geysers. While 
Lewis and Clark were exploring the Northwest, 
a trader appeared in St. Louis with an Indian map 
drawn on a buffalo hide. This rude sketch showed 
the region of the upper Yellowstone and indicated 

the presence of what appeared to be "a volcano 
... on Yellow Stone River." After his return to 
St. Louis, Clark interviewed an Indian who had 
been to the area and reported : "There is fre- 
quently heard a loud noise like Thunder, which 
makes the earth Tremble, they state that they 
seldom go there because their children cannot 
sleep — and Conceive it possessed of spirits, who 
were averse that men Should be near them." But 
civilized men were not yet wholly ready to be- 
lieve "a savage delineation," preferring to with- 
hold judgment until one of their own kind reported 
his observations. 

In 1 807 Manuel Lisa's Missouri Fur Trading 
Company constructed Fort Raymond at the con- 
fluence of the Bighorn and Yellowstone Rivers 
as a center for trading with the Indians. To attract 
clients, Lisa sent John Colter on a harrowing 
500-mile journey through untracked Indian coun- 
try. A veteran of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, 
Colter was a man born "for hardy indurance of 
fatigue, privation and perils." Part of his route in 
1807-8 is open to conjecture, but he is known to 
have skirted the northwest shore of Yellowstone 
Lake and crossed the Yellowstone River near 
Tower Falls, where he noted the presence of "Hot 
Spring Brimstone." Although a thermal area near 
present-day Cody, Wyo., later became famous 
among trappers as "Colter's Hell," Colter is more 
celebrated as the first white man known to have 
entered Yellowstone. The privations of a trapper's 
life and a narrow escape from the Blackfeet in 
1808 prompted him to leave the mountains forever 
in 1810. But he was the pioneer, and for three 
decades a procession of beaver hunters followed 
in his footsteps. 

Though most of the trappers who entered 
Yellowstone were Americans working for various 
companies or as free traders, some Canadians also 
visited the region in the early days. At least one 
party of Hudson's Bay Company men left a cache 
of beaver traps within the park. By 1 824 Yellow- 

Joseph L. Meek 

Jim Bridgets tall tales 

popularized the wonders of Yellowstone, 

but made them unbelievable. 

stone seems to have been fairly well known to 
most trappers, judging by the casual note of one 
in his journal: "Saturday 24th — we crossed be- 
yond the Boiling Fountains. The snow is knee 
deep." In 1827 a Philadelphia newspaper printed 
a letter from a trapper who described his experi- 
ences hunting furs and fighting Blackfeet in 
Yellowstone. This letter was the first published 
description of the region : 

on the south borders of this lake is a number 
of hot and boiling springs some of water and 
others of most beautiful fine clay and resembles 
that of a mush pot and throws its particles to 
the immense height of from twenty to thirty 
feet in height. The clay is white and pink and 
water appear fathomless as it appears to be 
entirely hollow underneath. There is also a 
number of places where the pure sulphor 
is sent forth in abundance one of our men 
visited one of these whilst taking his recreation 
at an instan [sic] made his escape when an ex- 
plosion took place resembling that of thunder. 
During our stay in that quarter I heard it 
every day. . . . 

After 1826, American trappers apparently 
hunted within the future park every year. Joe 
Meek, one of the best known of the early beaver 
men, expressed the surprise of some of these early 
visitors: "behold! the whole country beyond was 
smoking with the vapor from boiling springs, and 
burning with gasses." Such reactions, however, 
gradually gave way to casual acceptance of the 
thermal activity. 

Trappers had little for entertainment but talk; 
as a class they were the finest of storytellers. 
Verbal embellishment became a fine art as they 
related their experiences fighting Indians or visit- 
ing strange country. Perhaps the greatest of the 
yarn spinners was Jim Bridger. Though it is doubt- 
ful he told them all, tradition links his name with 
many of Yellowstone's tall tales. 

In 1856 a Kansas City newspaper editor re- 
jected as patent lies Bridger's lucid description of 
the Yellowstone wonders. Perhaps this sort of 
refusal to believe the truth about "the place where 
Hell bubbled up," as Bridger called Yellowstone, 
led him and other trappers to embellish their ac- 
counts with false detail. They related their visits 
to the petrified forest, carpeted with petrified grass, 
populated with petrified animals and containing 
even birds petrified in flight. They told of the 
shrinking qualities of Alum Creek, the banks of 
which were frequented by miniature animals. Fish 
caught in the cold water at the bottom of a curious 
spring were cooked passing through the hot water 
on top. Elk hunters bumped into a glass mountain. 
Such stories gave the features of Yellowstone the 
reputation of fantasies concocted by trappers. But 
the spread of this lore caused a few to wonder 
whether some fact might not lie behind the fancy. 

By about 1 840 the extirpation of the beaver and 
the popularity of the silk hat had combined to 
end the day of the trapper. For almost 20 years, 
Yellowstone, only rarely visited by white men, 
was left to the Indians. By the time of the Civil 
War, however, the relentless westward push of 
civilization and the burning memory of California 
gold drew to Yellowstone another herald of the 
frontier — the prospector. A rich strike was made 
in Montana in 1862, and the resultant stampede 
brought a horde of men to that territory. Despite 
often fatal discouragements from Indians, their 
lust for gold was such that they filtered into nearly 
every part of Yellowstone, but found not a sparkle 
of the magic metal. One enterprising gold seeker, 
a civil engineer and soldier of fortune named 
Walter W. deLacy, published in 1865 the first 
reasonably accurate map of the Yellowstone 
region. By the time the gold rush had died out 
in the late 1860's, the future national park had 
been thoroughly examined by prospectors. Al- 
though they were even greater liars than the moun- 
tain men, their tales of the wondrous land they 


had seen planted a seed of curiosity in Montana 
that was to impel others to take a careful 
look for themselves. 

Walter W. deLacy 




Although Yellowstone had been thoroughly 
tracked by trappers and miners, in the view of the 
Nation at large it was really "discovered" when 
penetrated by formal expeditions originating in the 
settlements of an expanding America. 

The first organized attempt to explore Yellow- 
stone came in 1860. Capt. William F. Raynolds, 
a discerning Army engineer guided by Jim Bridger, 
led a military expedition that accomplished 
much but failed to penetrate the future park 
because of faulty scheduling and early snow. The 
Civil War preoccupied the Government during the 
next few years. During the late 1860's, however, 
stories of the area's wonders so excited many of 
Montana's leading citizens and officials that 
several explorations were planned. But none ac- 
tually got underway. 

Indian trouble and lack of a military escort 
caused the abandonment of the last such expe- 
dition in the summer of 1869. Determined that 
they would not be deprived of a look at the 
wondrous region, three members of that would-be 
venture — David E. Folsom, Charles W. Cook, and 
William Peterson — decided to make the trek 
anyway. Folsom and Cook brought with them 
a sensitivity to nature endowed by a Quaker up- 
bringing, while Peterson displayed the hardy 
spirit that came from years as a seafarer. All 
three, furthermore, had become experienced 
frontiersmen while prospecting for Montana gold. 
They acquired a store of provisions, armed them- 
selves well, then set out on an enterprise about 


which they were warned by a friend: "It's the 
next thing to suicide." 

That caution could not have been more wrong, 
for their journey took them into a natural wonder- 
land where they met few Indians. From Bozeman, 
they traveled down the divide between the 
Gallatin and Yellowstone Rivers, eventually 
crossing to the Yellowstone and ascending that 
stream into the present park by way of Yankee 
Jim Canyon. They observed Tower Fall and 
nearby thermal features and the Grand Canyon 
of the Yellowstone — "this masterpiece of nature's 
handiwork" — then continued past the Mud Vol- 
cano to Yellowstone Lake. They pushed east to 
Mary Bay, then backtracked across the north 
shore to West Thumb. On their way home the 
explorers visited Shoshone Lake and the Lower 
and Midway Geyser Basins. The Folsom-Cook- 
Peterson exploration produced an updated version 
of DeLacy's 1865 map, an article in the Western 
Monthly magazine in Chicago, and a fever of 
excitement among some of Montana's leading 
citizens, who promptly determined to see for 
themselves the truth of the party's tales of "the 
beautiful places we had found fashioned by the 
practised hand of nature, that man had not 

By August 1870 a second expedition had been 
organized. Rumors of Indian trouble reduced the 
original 20 members to less than half that number. 
Among them were prominent government officials 
and financial leaders of Montana Territory, led 
by Surveyor-General Henry D. Washburn, poli- 
tician and business promoter Nathaniel P. Lang- 
ford, and Cornelius Hedges, a lawyer. Obtaining 
from Fort Ellis a military escort under an ex- 
perienced soldier, Lt. Gustavus C. Doane, 
the explorers traced the general route of the 
1869 party. They followed the river to the lake, 
passed around the eastern and southern sides, 
inspected the Upper, Midway, and Lower Geyser 
Basins, and paused at Madison Junction — the 

David E. Folsom 

Charles W. Cook, 1869. 


William Peterson 

confluence of the Gibbon and Firehole Rivers — 
before returning to Montana. It was at this 
campsite that they, like their predecessors the 
year before, discussed their hopes that Yellow- 
stone might be saved from exploitation. 

Some of the members of the 1870 expedition 
lacked extensive experience as frontiersmen, and 
their wilderness education came hard. At 
times they went hungry because, according to 
Doane, "our party kept up such a rackett of 
yelling and firing as to drive off all game for 
miles ahead of us." One of their number, Truman 
Everts, separated himself from the rest of the 
party and, unable to subsist in a bounteous land, 
nearly starved to death before he was rescued 
37 days later. But these problems were under- 
standable. By the end of the expedition they had 
demonstrated their backwoods ability. The party 
had climbed several peaks, made numerous side 
trips, descended into the Grand Canyon of the 
Yellowstone, and attempted measurements and 
analyses of several of the prominent natural fea- 
tures. They had shown that ordinary men, as well 
as hardened frontiersmen, could venture into the 
wilderness of Yellowstone. 

Far more important, however, was their en- 
chantment and wonder at what they had seen 
and their success in publicizing these feelings. As 
Hedges later recalled, "I think a more confirmed 
set of sceptics never went out into the wilderness 
than those who composed our party, and never 
was a party more completely surprised and cap- 
tivated with the wonders of nature." Their 
reports stirred intense interest in Montana and 
attracted national attention. Members of the expe- 
dition wrote articles for several newspapers and 
Scribner's Monthly magazine. Langford made a 
speaking tour in the East. Doane's official report 
was accepted and printed by the Congress. All 
this publicity resulted in a congressional ap- 
propriation for an official exploration of Yellow- 
stone — the Hayden Expedition. 


Henry D. Washburn, 1869. 

Lt. Gustavus C. Doane 

Cornelius Hedges 

Truman C. Everts 

Walter Trumbull's sketch of the Upper Falls 
of the Yellowstone, made on the 1870 expedition. 


L# ^.J 











7 * 


The Hayden Expedition of 1871 on their way 
into the heart of the Yellowstone country. 






.• * : 


irfH-liHMW ilW,Hi, rf 

"Annie," the first boat on Yellowstone 

Lake, was built and launched during the 

1871 expedition. 

Jackson's self-portrait, 
He was the official photographer for 
both the 1871 and 1872 expeditions. 


Hunters with the 1871 expedition 
bring in a day's kill. 

' tm&k 


. SJSSt 

Ferdinand V. Hayden (left), who led the 

1871 exploration of Yellowstone, talks with 

his assistant Walter Paris. 

| After the 1871 expedition, Hayden published 
g this map of the Yellowstone region. 


Ferdinand V. Hayden, physician turned geol- 
ogist, energetic explorer and accomplished nat- 
uralist, head of the U.S. Geological Survey of the 
Territories, had been with Raynolds in 1860. The 
failure of that expedition to penetrate Yellowstone 
had stimulated his desire to investigate the re- 
gion. Aside from being a leading scientific investi- 
gator of the wilderness, he was an influential 
publicist of the scientific wonders, scenic beauty, 
and economic potential of the American West. 
He saw the interest stirred by the Washburn- 
Langford-Doane Expedition as an opportunity 
to reveal Yellowstone in an orderly and scientific 
manner. Drawing on the support of the railroad 
interests — always proponents of Western explora- 
tion and development — and favorable public 
reaction to the reports of the 1 870 expedition, 
Hayden secured an appropriation for a scientific 
survey of Yellowstone. This expedition was 
supplemented by a simultaneous survey by the 
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. 

The dual exploration in the late summer of 
1871 was more thorough than that of 1870, and 
it brought back scientific corroboration of earlier 
tales of thermal activity. Although a lot of the 
material vanished in the Chicago fire of 1871, 
the expedition gave the world a much improved 
map of Yellowstone and, in the excellent photo- 
graphs by William Henry Jackson and the artistry 
of Henry W. Elliott and Thomas Moran, visual 
proof of Yellowstone's unique curiosities. The 
expedition's reports excited the scientific commu- 
nity and aroused intense national interest in this 
previously mysterious region. 

Members of all three expeditions from 1869 
to 1871 were overwhelmed by what they had seen. 
The singular features of the area evoked similar 
reactions in all the explorers. This was the day 
of the "robber barons" and of rapacious exploita- 
tion of the public domain. It was also a time of 
dynamic national expansion, when the Nation 
conceived its mission to be the taming and 

peopling of the wilderness. But most of the re- 
gion's explorers sensed that division and exploita- 
tion, through homesteading or other development, 
were not proper for Yellowstone. Its natural curi- 
osities impressed them as being so valuable that 
the area should be reserved for all to see. Their 
crowning achievement was that they persuaded 
others to their view and helped to save Yellowstone 
from private development. 

Hayden, assisted by members of the Washburn 
party and other interested persons, promoted a 
park bill in Washington in late 1871 and early 
1872. Working earnestly, the sponsors drew upon 
the precedent of the Yosemite Act of 1864, which 
reserved Yosemite Valley from settlement and en- 
trusted it to the care of the State of California, 
and the persuasive magic of Jackson's photo- 
graphs, Moran's paintings, and Elliott's sketches. 
To permanently close to settlement such an ex- 
panse of the public domain would be a departure 
from the established policy of transferring public 
lands to private ownership. But the proposed park 
encompassing the wonders of Yellowstone had 
caught the imagination of both the public and 
the Congress. After some discussion but surpris- 
ingly little opposition, the measure passed both 
houses of Congress, and on March 1, 1872, 
President Ulysses S. Grant signed it into law. 
Yellowstone would be forever preserved from 
private greed and "dedicated and set apart as a 
public park or pleasuring-ground for the benefit 
and enjoyment of the people." The world's first 
national park was born. 

wild romantic 

There is something about Yellowstone that has 
frequently brought out the poet, or would-be 


poet, in its visitors. Men who ordinarily would not 
bother to remark on their surroundings have in 
Yellowstone felt compelled to draft prose about 
the wonders they saw around them. This impulse 
was particularly keen in those who saw Yellow- 
stone before the advance of civilization. 

Little is known of the Indians' regard for 
Yellowstone's natural features during the thou- 
sands of years they lived there. They did not 
leave their impressions in written form for the 
reflection of later generations. 

But the fur trappers did. Several of them kept 
journals or related their experiences in letters 
and reminiscences. They used their observations 
to spin entertaining yarns, and they sometimes 
compared the surrounding beauty with what they 
knew back home. Yet they generally resisted the 
"womanly emotions" of praising scenery, and 
most of them were reluctant to reflect on nature's 
charms. A Maine farm boy named Osborne 
Russell, who went West in the 1830's to trap, 
chided his companions for their insensitivity: 
My comrades were men who never troubled 
themselves about vain and frivolous notions 
as they called them; with them every country 
was pretty when there was weather and as to 
beauty of nature or arts, it was all a "humbug' 
as one of them . . . often expressed it. 

What Russell saw in Yellowstone affected him 
deeply. He had reverent memories of one place 
in particular, a "Secluded Valley," located on the 
Lamar River near the mouth of Soda Butte Creek. 
There is something in the wild romantic 
scenery of this valley which I cannot . . . 
describe; but the impressions made upon my 
mind while gazing from a high eminence on 
the surrounding landscape one evening as the 
sun was gently gliding behind the western 
mountain and casting its gigantic shadows 
across the vale were such as time can never 
efface from my memory . . . for my own part 

I almost wished I could spend the remainder 
of my days in a place like this where happiness 
and contentment seemed to reign in wild 
romantic splendor. 

Thermal features drew the most frequent 
notice from Yellowstone's early visitors. Nathaniel 
Langford summarized the mystery and disbelief 
many people feel while observing them: 

General Washburn and I again visited the mud 
vulcano [sic] to-day. I especially desired to see 
it again for the one especial purpose, among 
others of a general nature, of assuring myself 
that the notes made in my diary a few days 
ago are not exaggerated. No! they are not! The 
sensations inspired in me to-day, on again 
witnessing its convulsions . . . were those of 
mingled dread and wonder. At war with all 
former experience it was so novel, so unnat- 
urally natural, that I feel while now writing and 
thinking of it, as if my own senses might have 
deceived me with a mere figment of 
the imagination. 

But more often the hot springs, mud pots, 
fumaroles, and geysers seemed to suppress the poet 
and draw forth instead the amateur scientist. 
Most early accounts centered on attempts at 
measurement or analysis, or on speculations about 
the mechanisms of such features. For many of 
these novice geologists, the surprises at Yellow- 
stone did not always come in the form of geysers 
or boiling springs. A. Bart Henderson, a pros- 
pector, was walking down the Yellowstone River 
in 1867, near the Upper Falls, when he was 
very much surprised to see the water disappear 
from sight. I walked out on a rock & made 
two steps at the same time, one forward, the 
other backward, for I had unawares as it were, 
looked into the depth or bowels of the earth, 
into which the Yellow[stone] plunged as if to 
cool the infernal region that lay under all this 


Henry Elliott's sketch of the Lower Geyser Basin 

was part of the persuasive evidence produced by 

the Hayden survey. 



Artist Thomas Moran, climbing on 
Mammoth Hot Spring, 1871. 

Thomas Moran's field sketches of Tower 
Fall (left) and the hot springs at Mammoth. 




wonderful country of lava & boiling springs. 
The water fell several feet, struck a reef of 
rock that projected further than the main rock 
above. This reef caused the water to fall the 
remainder of the way in spray. 

Henderson recovered his analytical composure 
and concluded, "We judged the falls to be 80 
or 90 feet high, perhaps higher." 

Because wildlife was plentiful everywhere in 
the West in the 19th century, the abundant wild- 
life of Yellowstone seldom drew the attention of 
early visitors, except when they referred to hunt- 
ing the "wild game." Occasionally a diary 
registered that some physical feature had been 
endowed with the name of an animal. Prospector 
John C. Davis shot at what he thought was a 
flock of flying geese in 1864. But after a difficult 
swim to retrieve his prey, he decided that it was 
too strange to eat, and hung it in a tree. From 
that small incident Pelican Creek acquired its 

Sometimes the wildlife forced their attentions 
on visitors. Henderson prospected in Yellowstone 
again in 1870. He christened Buffalo Flat because 
"we found thousands of buffalo quietly grazing." 
But the animals were evidently not flattered, for 
one night, "Buffalo bull run thro the tent, while 
all hands were in bed." As Henderson's party 
continued their journey, another bull attacked 
their horses, nearly destroying their supplies. 
Sometime later, the group "met an old she bear 
& three cubs. After a severe fight killed the 
whole outfit, while a short distance further on 
we was attacked by an old boar bear. We soon 
killed him. He proved to be the largest ever killed 
in the mountains, weighing 960 pounds." Two 
days later, Henderson "was chased by an old 
she bear .... Climbe[d] a tree & killed her under 
the tree." 

But few encounters with wildlife were so un- 
pleasant. Most travelers recognized that the 

animals of Yellowstone were an integral part of 
the environment. To David Folsom the voices 
of the animals were but the voice of nature, 
reminding men of their smallness in the natural 
world and of their aloneness in a strange country: 
the wolf scents us afar and the mournful 
cadence of his howl adds to our sense of 
solitude. The roar of the mountain lion 
awakens the sleeping echoes of the adjacent 
cliffs and we hear the elk whistling in every 
direction .... Even the horses . . . stop graz- 
ing and raise their heads to listen, and then 
hover around our campfire as if their safety 
lay in our companionship. 

The explorers of 1869, 1870, and 1871, writing 
for a wide audience, did their best to remain 
detached and to describe objectively what they 
had seen. But their prose sometimes became 
impassioned. Even the thermal features evoked 
poetic word pictures. Charles Cook was startled 
by his first view of Great Fountain Geyser: 
Our attention was at once attracted by water 
and steam escaping, or being thrown up from 
an opening .... Soon this geyser was in full 
play. The setting sun shining into the spray 
and steam drifting toward the mountains, gave 
it the appearance of burnished gold, a wonder- 
ful sight. We could not contain our enthusi- 
asm; with one accord we all took off our hats 
and yelled with all our might. 

Folsom recalled his last look at Yellowstone 

Lake this way: 

nestled among the forest-crowned hills which 
bounded our vision, lay this inland sea, its 
crystal waves dancing and sparkling in the 
sunlight as if laughing with joy for their wild 
freedom. It is a scene of transcendent beauty 
which has been viewed by few white men, and 
we felt glad to have looked upon it before 
its primeval solitude should be broken by the 


Two early explorers examine Lone Star Geyser. 

W. H. Jackson's photographs of Grotto 

Geyser (left) and the Grand Canyon 

of the Yellowstone, next page, were among 

the evidence that prompted 

Congress to establish the national park. 

crowds of pleasure seekers which at no distant 
day will throng its shores. 

Even the scientifically minded professional soldier, 
Gustavus Doane, departed from an objective 
recital to exclaim that the view from Mount 
Washburn was really "beyond all adequate 
description." Speaking of Tower Falls, Doane 
became cautiously lyrical: 

Nothing can be more chastely beautiful than 
this lovely cascade, hidden away in the dim 
light of overshadowing rocks and woods, its 
very voice hushed to a low murmur unheard 
at the distance of a few hundred yards. Thou- 
sands might pass by within a half mile and 
not dream of its existence, but once seen, it 
passes to the list of most pleasant memories. 

The lieutenant dropped his reserve altogether 
when he sang the praises of the Upper and Lower 
Falls in the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone: 
Both these cataracts deserve to be ranked 
among the great waterfalls of the continent. No 
adequate standard of comparison between such 
objects, either in beauty or grandeur, can well 
be obtained. Every great cascade has a lan- 
guage and an idea peculiarly its own, embodied, 
as it were, in the flow of its waters . ... So 
the Upper Falls of the Yellowstone may be 
said to embody the idea of "Momentum," and 
the Lower Fall of "Gravitation." In scenic 
beauty the upper cataract far excels the lower; 
it has life, animation, while the lower one 
simply follows its channel; both however are 
eclipsed as it were by the singular wonders of 
the mighty canon below. 

The Hayden expeditions of 1871 and 1872 
were scientific ventures, composed of men of 
critical disposition who were prepared to take a 
circumspect, unromantic view of all they en- 
countered in their path. Yet even they were 

moved to comment on the beauty of Yellowstone. 

Henry Gannett, one of Hayden's later associates, 


In one essential respect the scenery of the 
Yellowstone Park differs from that of nearly 
all other parts of the Cordilleras, in possessing 
the element of beauty, in presenting to the eye 
rounded forms, and soft, bright, gay coloring. 

Nor could the scholarly Hayden completely 
restrict himself to scientific explanations of 
Yellowstone's charms. Mammoth Hot Springs, 
he thought, "alone surpassed all the descriptions 
which had been given by former travelers." 
When he came to the Grand Canyon and the falls, 
he confessed that mere description was inade- 
quate, that "it is only through the eye that the 
mind can gather anything like an adequate 
conception of them": 

no language can do justice to the wonderful 
grandeur and beauty of the canon below the 
Lower Falls; the very nearly vertical walk, 
slightly sloping down to the water's edge on 
either side, so that from the summit the river 
appears like a thread of silver foaming over its 
rocky bottom; the variegated colors of the sides, 
yellow, red, brown, white, all intermixed and 
shading into each other; the Gothic columns of 
every form standing out from the sides of the 
walls with greater variety and more striking 
colors than ever adorned a work of human art. 
The margins of the canon on either side are 
beautifully fringed with pines. In some places 
the walls of the canon are composed of massive 
basalt, so separated by the jointage as to look 
like irregular mason-work going to decay .... 

Standing near the margin of the Lower Falls, 
and looking down the canon, which looks like 
an immense chasm or cleft in the basalt, with 
its sides 1,200 to 1 ,500 feet high, and decorated 
with the most brilliant colors that the human 


eye ever saw, with the rocks weathered into an 
almost unlimited variety of forms, with here 
and there a pine sending its roots into the clefts 
on the sides as if struggling with a sort of un- 
certain success to maintain an existence — the 
whole presents a picture that it would be dif- 
ficult to surpass in nature. Mr. Thomas Moran, 
a celebrated artist, and noted for his skill as a 
colorist, exclaimed with a kind of regretful en- 
thusiasm that these beautiful tints were beyond 
the reach of human art. 

Such were the men, from fur trappers to 
geologists, who preceded the civilized world into 
Yellowstone, and such were the feelings that 
nature produced in them. It was upon a stage 
thus set that Yellowstone entered into its 
greatest period — that of a wilderness preserved. 

Nathaniel P. Langford, first 
superintendent of the park, 1872. 



the scenery 

and the 

objects therein" 

The Yellowstone Park Act was essentially directed 
at preventing private exploitation; it contained 
few positive measures for administering the pre- 
serve. The park's promoters envisioned that it 
would exist at no expense to the Government. 
The costs of maintenance and administration were 
to be borne by fees charged concessioners, who 
would provide the facilities that the public needed. 
For a long time, therefore, Yellowstone enjoyed 
little protection from pillagers. It took almost half 
a century of trial and error to develop a practical 
approach to administration and to discover what 
a "national park" should be. 


Philetus W. Norris, energetic pioneer, 

perpetual showman, and second 

superintendent of the park. 

Harry Yount, the park's first 

One of the first needs was more thorough 
exploration. During the more than two decades 
following its establishment, a number of ex- 
peditions traversed much of the park and added 
greatly to the general store of knowledge. 
Especially notable were the elaborate Hayden 
Expedition of 1872 and a series of military 
explorations of the park later in the same decade. 
In 1883 an impressive bevy of scientists and 
celebrities escorted President Chester A. Arthur 
during what was more a pleasure trip than 
an exploration. By the early 1890's the park was 
well mapped, most of its features had been 
recorded, and it had even been penetrated during 
the bitter winters. 

But the emerging park soon faced a new set of 
problems. Squatters had already moved in, and 
vandals and poachers preyed on its natural 
wealth. No congressional appropriation provided 
for protection or administration. 

The Secretary of the Interior did, however, 
appoint a superintendent. In May 1872 this 
honor fell to Nathaniel P. Langford, member 
of the Washburn Expedition and advocate of the 
Yellowstone Park Act. Receiving no salary, he 
had to earn his living elsewhere and entered the 
park only twice during his 5 years in office, once 
in the train of the 1872 Hayden Expedition 
and again in 1874 to evict a particularly egre- 
gious squatter. When he was there, his task was 
made more difficult by the lack of statutory 
protection for wildlife and other natural 

Because there were no appropriations for 
administration or improved access, the park 
remained inaccessible to all but the hardiest 
travelers. Some of the visitors who did make 
their way to the neglected paradise displayed a 
marked propensity to go about, according to 
an observer, "with shovel and axe, chopping and 
hacking and prying up great pieces of the 
most ornamental work they could find." In 1 874 


Early abuse of Yellowstone's wildlife. The elk 
in the photograph below were brought down to help 

feed the 1871 Hayden Expedition. Thirty years 

later buffalo were confined near Mammoth so that 

the visitors could see them with little effort. 


The blockhouse, long called OFd Fort 

Yellowstone, built by Superintendent Norris 

at Mammoth for park headquarters. 


Jack Baronett foresaw the attraction the 

region would hold for others, and in 1871 he 

built the first bridge across the Yellowstone 

to capitalize on traffic into the area. 

These photographs show (top) the original 

bridge built in 1871, and (below) the Army's 

reconstruction after the Nez Perce 

had destroyed the first bridge. 

a Montana newspaper queried: "What has 
the Government done to render this national 
elephant approachable and attractive since its 
adoption as one of the nation's pets? Nothing." 
Langford complained, "Our Government, 
having adopted it, should foster it and render it 
accessible to the people of all lands, who in 
future time will come in crowds to visit it." 

Political pressure stemming partly from accu- 
sations of neglect of duty forced Langford's 
removal from the superintendency in April 1877. 
He was replaced by Philetus W. Norris, a 
hyper-energetic pioneer of quite a different stamp. 
Shortly after taking office, Norris became the 
regular recipient of an annual salary and ap- 
propriations "to protect, preserve, and improve 
the Park." Bringing skill and industry to the 
task, he constructed numerous physical improve- 
ments, built a monumental "blockhouse" on 
Capitol Hill at Mammoth Hot Springs for use as 
park headquarters, hired the first "gamekeeper" 
(Harry Yount, an experienced frontiersman), 
and waged a difficult campaign against poachers 
and vandals. Much of the primitive road system 
he laid out still endures as part of the Grand 
Loop. Through ceaseless exploration and identi- 
fication of the physical features, Norris added 
immensely to the geographical knowledge of the 
park. In this effort he left a prominent legacy, for 
among the names he liberally bestowed on the 
landscape, his own appeared frequently. One 
visitor felt he was "simply paying a visit to 'Norris' 
Park." Another caustically suggested: 

Take the Norris wagon road and follow down 
the Norris fork of the Firehole River to the 
Norris Canyon of the Norris Obsidian Moun- 
tain; then go on to Mount Norris, on the sum- 
mit of which you find . . . the Norris Blowout, 
and at its northerly base the Norris Basin and 
Park. Further on you will come to the Norris 
Geyser plateau, and must not fail to see Geyser 


Despite the physical improvements he made in 
the park and his contributions to scientific knowl- 
edge, Norris fell victim to political machinations 
and was removed from his post in February 
1882. As the ax fell, a Montana newspaper 

We are led to infer that Peter junk Windy 
Norris' cake is dough; in other words he 
has gone where the woodbine twineth; or, 
to speak plainly, he has received the grand 
bounce. It is extremely sad . . . We shall 
never look upon [his] like again. 

The removal of Norris was indicative of 
Yellowstone's plight. During its formative years, 
the park was fought over by interests that for 
political or financial reasons hoped to claim it as 
a prize and control it totally. Without legal 
protection against such exploitation or against 
poaching and vandalism, the park suffered greatly 
during its first two decades. An active and 
conscientious, if abrasive, superintendent like 
Norris was unable to fully protect the park. After 
his dismissal, promoters of schemes to build rail- 
roads and toll roads in the park and to 
monopolize accommodations usually blocked the 
appointment of capable superintendents and 
harassed any who showed signs of honestly striv- 
ing for the benefit of the park. A succession of 
powerless and mediocre superintendents took 
office. Of one of them it was remarked: 
It need only be said that his administration 
was throughout characterized by a weakness 
and inefficiency which brought the Park to 
the lowest ebb of its fortunes, and drew forth 
the severe condemnation of visitors and public 
officials alike. 

It should be pointed out, however, that the 
lational park was a totally new invention. No 
>ne had experience in the administration of 
uch a preserve, and a long period of trial and 

Capt. Hiram M. Chittenden, 1900. 

Off-duty soldiers pass the time at the 
Canyon Soldier Station, 1906. 


>; * •- 

The first bridge at the Golden Gate, 
built by the Army in 1884. 


An Army ski patrol sets out from Yancey's cabin. 

While the Army administered Yellowstone, 

visitors were treated every day to the 

spectacle of troops on parade. This 

platoon is drilling at Fort Yellowstone. 


error was bound to follow its establishment. 
The legal responsibilities of the Government 
were not fully recognized, for it was commonly 
believed that the public could best be served and 
the park best be protected by concessioners. Yet 
it was difficult to distinguish the honest conces- 
sioner from the exploiter, to determine what kind 
of legal protection would best serve the common 
good, and to identify those human activities 
detrimental to the park. The isolation of 
Yellowstone compounded these handicaps. 
Although some visitors were destructive and a 
few rapacious exploiters wielded enormous in- 
fluence, the Government was honestly striving to 
find the proper course in a new enterprise. 
Fortunately, most early visitors restricted their 
activities to the peaceful enjoyment of 
Yellowstone's wonders. 

Attempts were made in the early 1880's to 
bring law and order to Yellowstone. A body of 
10 assistant superintendents was created to act as 
a police force. Described by some observers 
as "notoriously inefficient if not positively 
corrupt" and scorned as "rabbit catchers" by 
Montana newspapers, they failed to check the 
rising tide of destruction and the slaughter of 
game. For 2 years the laws of Wyoming 
Territory were extended into the park, but the 
practice of enforcement that allowed "informers" 
and magistrates to split the fines degraded 
the hoped-for protection almost to the level of 
extortion. After the repeal of the act authorizing 
such "protection" was announced in March 
1 886, the obviously defenseless park attracted a 
new plague of poachers, squatters, woodcutters, 
vandals, and firebugs. 

The inability of the superintendents to protect 
the park appeared to be a failure to perform their 
duty, and in 1886 Congress refused to appro- 
priate money for such ineffective administration. 
Since no superintendent was willing to serve 
without pay, Yellowstone now lacked even 

Horace M. Albright, 1922. 


One of the first naturalists at 
Yellowstone, 1929. 

the pretense of protection. 

This circumstance proved fortunate, for the 
Secretary of the Interior, under authority 
previously given by the Congress, called on the 
Secretary of War for assistance. After August 
20, 1886, Yellowstone came under the 
care of men not obliged to clamor for the job, 
and whose careers depended on performance- 
soldiers of the U.S. Army. 

Military administration greatly benefited 
Yellowstone. Regulations were revised and con- 
spicuously posted around the park, and patrols 
enforced them constantly. For the protection of 
visitors, as well as park features, detachments 
guarded the major attractions. No law spelled 
out offenses, but the Army handled problems 
effectively by evicting troublemakers and for- 
bidding their return. Cavalry, better suited than 
infantry to patrol its vastness, usually guarded 
the park. 

When appropriations for improvements in- 
creased, the Corps of Engineers lent its talents 
to converting the primitive road network into a 
system of roads and trails that in basic outline 
still endures. The soldier who left the greatest 
mark on Yellowstone was one of the engineers, 
Hiram M. Chittenden. He not only supervised 
much of its development and constructed 
the great arch at the northern entrance, but also 
wrote the first history of the park. 

Army headquarters was at Mammoth Hot 
Springs, first in Camp Sheridan and after the 
1 890's in Fort Yellowstone, which still houses 
the park headquarters. A scattering of "soldier 
stations" around the park served as subposts. 
One survives today at Norris. 

The most persistent menace to the park came 
from poachers. Although these intruders never 
killed any defender of the park — there was 
only one shoot-out with poachers in more than 30 
years — their ceaseless attempts to make petty 
gains from the wildlife threatened to exter- 


minate some animals. In 1894, soldiers arrested 
a man named Ed Howell for slaughtering 
bison and took him to Mammoth. The presence 
there of Emerson Hough, a prominent 
journalist, helped to generate national interest 
in the problem. Within 2 months Congress had 
acted, and the National Park Protective Act 
(Lacey Act) became law, finally providing teeth 
for the protection of Yellowstone's treasures. 
Howell entered the park later that year to con- 
tinue his bloody pastime. Appropriately, he be- 
came the first person arrested and punished 
under the new law. 

The Army compiled an admirable record 
during its three decades of administration. But 
something more than competent protection 
was needed. Running a park was not the Army's 
usual line of work. The troops could protect 
the park and ensure access, but they could not 
fully satisfy the visitor's desire for knowledge. 
Moreover, each of the 14 other national parks 
established during this period was separately ad- 
ministered, resulting in uneven management, 
inefficiency, and a great lack of direction. 

It was generally agreed by 1916 that the 
national parks needed coordinated administration 
by professionals attuned to the special require- 
ments of such preserves. The creation of 
the National Park Service that year eventually 
gave the parks their own force of trained 
men who were ordered by the Congress "to con- 
serve the scenery and the natural and historic 
objects and the wild life therein and to provide 
for the enjoyment of the same in such manner 
and by such means as will leave them unimpaired 
for the enjoyment of future generations." 

A Park Service ranger force, including several 
veterans of Army service in the park, assumed re- 
sponsibility for Yellowstone in 1918. Protection 
was complicated now by the growing number of 
visitors that toured the park in automobiles. 
The influx of cars meant that in time a significant 

part of the ranger force spent as mucheffort on 
controlling traffic as on protecting natural 
features. Increasingly sophisticated techniques 
and approaches were called for. 

The appointment of Horace M. Albright to the 
post of superintendent in 1919 portended a 
broader approach to the management of the park 
than just protection of its features. Serving simul- 
taneously in that office and as assistant to Stephen 
T. Mather, the Director of the National Park 
Service, Albright established a tradition of 
thoughtful administration that gave vitality and 
direction to the management of Yellowstone for 
decades. In 1929 he succeeded Mather as 

An innovation that the new Park Service 
brought to Yellowstone was "interpretation." 
Professional naturalists were hired to perform re 
search and use the results of their study to give 
campfire talks or conduct nature walks for the 
public. Trailside museums, gifts of the Laura 
Spellman Rockefeller Foundation, supplemented 
these personal services. Eventually, as the needs 
of the public grew, programs became more 
sophisticated and went beyond merely explaining 
the natural features of Yellowstone. The natural- 
ists now sought to interpret the complex 
web of life and the role of man in the natural 

But the greatest contribution of the Park 
Service was a sense of mission that viewed a 
national park as an entity valuable for its 
own sake. This attitude signaled that the new 
protectors of Yellowstone would not function 
merely as caretakers, but would see that the park 
was managed and defended according to the bes 
principles of natural conservation. During the 
1920's and early 1930's the park's boundaries 
were adjusted to conform more closely with nat- 
ural topographic features. Lands were also 
added to protect petrified tree deposits and 
increase the winter grazing range of elk and other 


Hot baths in Yellowstone. Primitive bathhouses, 

such as McCartney's at Mammoth (shown above 

in the 1870's), eventually gave way to 

more elaborate accommodations like the Old 

Faithful Swimming Pool . 

Uncle Tom Richardson always served a 
good picnic to visitors who hiked into the canyon. 


f jr 



i r 




Descending into the canyon by way of "Uncle Tom's 

Trail," 1904. These hikers are wearing the typical 

sporting attire of the day. 


This well-dressed angler tries his luck 
from the "Fishing Cone" at West Thumb in 1904. 


wildlife. An offshoot of the boundary revision 
campaign was the establishment of Grand Teton 
National Park to protect the magnificent 
Teton Range — a movement in which the 
superintendent of Yellowstone, Horace Albright, 
played a crucial role. During the same period the 
Park Service helped to marshal the advocates 
of conservation to prevent the impoundment of 
Yellowstone's waters for irrigation and hydro- 
electric projects — reminding the Nation that 
Yellowstone's founders considered its wonders 
so special that they should be forever preserved 
from exploitation. 

Over the years a wide range of knowledge and 
new understanding were brought to the manage- 
ment of the park. More sophisticated views of 
wildlife and forest management helped ensure the 
perpetuation of the natural environment. A 
deeper understanding of the park's ecology in 
turn influenced the course of physical develop- 
ment, which was charted to minimize the impact 
of a large number of visitors on the environment 
while affording them the maximum opportunity to 
appreciate the Yellowstone wilderness. 




The experience of tourists in Yellowstone before 
the days of the family automobile was quite 
unlike that of modern visitors. The natural 
features that have always attracted people to 
the park appear much the same today, but 
the manner of traveling to the park and making 
the Grand Tour in the early days would now 
seem utterly foreign. "The old Yellowstone — 
the Yellowstone of the pioneer and the explorer — 
is a thing of the past," wrote Chittenden after 
automobiles gained free access in 1915. 

To the survivors, now grown old, of the 
romantic era of the park who reveled in the 
luxury of "new" things, who really felt as 
they wandered through this fascinating region 
that they were treading virgin soil, who traveled 
on foot or horseback and slept only in tents 
or beneath the open sky — to them the park 
means something which it does not mean to the 
present-day visitor. And that is why these 
old-timers as a rule have ceased to visit the 
park. The change saddens them, and they 
prefer to see the region as it exists in memory 
rather than in its modern reality. 

One of the greatest attractions of old Yellow- 
stone was the opportunity to bathe in the hot 
springs. In a day when a hot bath was a luxury 
and people were less sophisticated about their 
medical needs, hot mineral baths were popularly 
believed to have curative powers — not to mention 
the simple pleasure of soaking in hot water. Hot 
springs around the world enjoyed long careers as 
"spas" for the well-to-do and resorts for health 
seekers. And it was the hot waters of Yellowstone 
that attracted many of its first pleasure-seekers. In 
July 1872, while the second Hayden Expedition 
was exploring the park, a crowd of at least 50 
people enjoyed the waters of Mammoth Hot 
Springs and the delights of James McCartney's 
hotel — really a log shack — and ramshackle bath- 
house — in actuality a set of flimsy tents sheltering 
water-filled hollows in the ground. Gen. John 
Gibbon patronized the establishment in 1872 and 
left a record of this peculiar form of pleasure: 
Already, these different bathhouses have es- 
tablished a local reputation with reference to 
their curative qualities. Should you require 
parboiling for the rheumatism, take No. 1; if a 
less degree of heat will suit your disease, and 
you do not care to lose all your cuticle, take 
No. 2. Not being possessed of any disease I 
chose No. 3, and took one bath — no more. 


McCartney's facilities became somewhat more 
comfortable, then passed from the scene, but 
other such resorts appeared throughout the park. 
Bathhouse enterprises, offering springs of various 
temperatures and presumed medicinal powers, 
sprouted in the several thermal areas. They en- 
joyed a brisk business well into the 20th century, 
when changing modes of leisure reduced their 

Fewer than 500 people a year came to Yellow- 
stone before 1877, but thereafter the number of 
visitors increased steadily. Getting there in the 
first few years was a great problem. Tourists 
either transported themselves or patronized one 
or more of the intermittent transportation enter- 
prises that carted them from Montana towns to 
the park. Once in the park they were on their 
own, finding sustenance during the early years 
only from a few concessioners or squatters who 
provided rude fare and minimal sleeping accom- 
modations. Some early tourists were wealthy 
aristocrats, including a few titled Europeans 
who came well prepared to tour in grand style. 
But most of the earlier visitors were frontier peo- 
ple accustomed to roughing it — and they had to. 

During the 1880's a visit to Yellowstone be- 
came easier. Access improved as the Northern 
Pacific Railroad reached Gardiner, on the north 
idge of the park. The Bozeman Toll Road Com- 
3any, later known as the Yankee Jim Toll Road 
n honor of its colorful owner, also facilitated 
ravel. The railroads, particularly the Northern 
^acific, took an increasing interest in the tourist 
business of Yellowstone and were the financial 
; ingels of concessioner operations. After the early 
880's tourists could step down from a Northern 
> acific train, and as part of a ticket package 
isit the prominent features of the park. Yellow- 
tone acquired a number of the large, gaudy 
otels popular as resorts in that day. Stage- 
oaches took visitors on tours of the park, usually 
n a 5-day schedule. For the man with money, 

Uncle John Yancey, with his ever-present 
dog, poses with guests in front 
of his Pleasant Valley Hotel in 1887. 


During the Grand Tour, the stages stopped 
at places like Larry's Lunch Station at Norris. 

Those who declined the opulent grand hotels 

could stay in one of the park's 

tent camps, as this group did in 1895. 


Another load of tourists arrives at Mammoth! 

The Zillah was one of the first of the 
many tour boats that have plied Yellowstone Lake. 









Yellowstone soon became a rewarding and 
enjoyable place for a vacation. 

Yellowstone was not yet a park for all of the 
people. Because of the expense of transportation 
in the late 1 9th and early 20th centuries, the 
travel industry in general was patronized mainly 
by the upper middle class — the affluent leaders of 
the industrial revolution. People accustomed to 
spending summers in Europe or at rich resorts 
like Saratoga Springs, N.Y., were the principal 
patrons of the Yellowstone package tours and 
"See America First" campaigns of the railroads. 
Though some people of lesser means did visit 
Yellowstone in the stagecoach days, the conces- 
sioners were dependent mainly on the "carriage 
trade." The difficulty of cross-country transporta- 
tion and the expense of such a vacation for many 
years put the enjoyment of Yellowstone's wonders 
out of reach for those who could not go first class. 

Even wealthy tourists — "dudes" as they were 
called in the park — faced a few inconveniences. 
Stagecoach travel could be bumpy and dusty, but 
the scenery more than compensated. The coaches 
frequently had to be unloaded at steep grades, 
giving the passengers an opportunity to stretch 
their legs and breathe in the cool air while follow- 
ing the vehicles uphill. Stagecoach accidents were 
a rare possibility. And, of course, there were a 
few holdups. 

Despite the attention the popular press gave 
to robberies, there were only five stagecoach 
holdups in the park — four of them involving 
coaches on the Grand Tour. The second, in 1908, 
was the most impressive of the 20th century; 
in a single holdup one enterprising bandit fleeced 
174 passengers riding 17 stagecoaches. Despite 
their cash loss, holdup victims were entranced 
with their robbers, for some were entertaining 
fellows who never seriously hurt the well-heeled 
"dudes." A holdup was an added bit of excitement 
to an already enjoyable tour. As one tourist re- 
marked, "We think we got off cheap and would 

not sell our experience, if we could, for what it 
cost us." 

Most visitors to the park exhibited that attitude. 
The minor inconvenience could not combine to 
eliminate the pleasures of "doing Yellowstone." 
Mingling with their own kind, breathing an atmos- 
phere pretentiously reminiscent of the luxury re- 
sorts of the East, well-to-do vacationers easily 
accepted small discomforts while they visited 
Yellowstone's wonders. 

The typical tour of Yellowstone began when the 
tourists, outfitted in petticoats, straw hats, and 
linen dusters (a few were persuaded to buy dime- 
novel versions of western wear) descended from 
the train, boarded large stagecoaches, and headed 
up the scenic Gardner River canyon to Mammoth 
Hot Springs. After checking into a large hotel 
they were free the rest of the day to sit in a porch 
chair (perhaps the same one that President Arthur 
had used) ; to spend their money on such souvenirs 
as rocks, silver spoons, photos, and post card 
views of frontier characters like Calamity Jane; 
and to fraternize with Army officers and 
frontiersmen like Jack Baronett, who had built the 
first bridge over the Yellowstone. Most of the 
visitors spent the afternoon touring the hot springs 
terraces, under the guidance of a congenial soldier 
or hotel bellhop, or bathing in the waters. Those 
who wanted to know more about the terraces, as 
Rudyard Kipling did in 1889, could purchase a 
guide to the formations "which some lurid hotel 
keeper has christened Cleopatra's Pitcher or Mark 
Anthony's Whiskey Jug, or something equally 
poetical." A heavy meal and retirement to a soft 
bed usually ended the tourist's first day in the 

For the next 4 days, the tourists bounced along 
in four-horse, 11 -passenger coaches called "Yel- 
lowstone wagons." They were entertained by the 
colorful profanity of the stage drivers, who urged 
their horses over the dusty roads of the Grand 
Loop. During the several halts at important na- 


Calamity Jane, a Montana character popular 

with tourists, received permission 

in 1897 to sell this post card portrait 

of herself in the park. 

tural features, the drivers further amazed their 
passengers with exceedingly imaginary explana- 
tions of the natural history. At midday there was 
a pause for refreshment at a lunch stop like 
Larry's at Norris. Each night there was a warm 
bed and a lavish meal at another grand hotel, 
such as the elaborately rustic Old Faithful Inn or 
the more conventional but equally immense Lake 

Yellowstone did have a few genuine hazards for 
visitors. In 1877, as the Nez Perce Indians came 
through the park after the Battle of the Big Hole, 
they captured two tourist parties and killed or 
severely wounded a number of the people they en- 
countered. The brief flurry of the Bannock War 
in 1878 raised fears of another Indian foray. 
These dangers were soon replaced by the oc- 
casional accidents of stagecoaching and the 
hazards that awaited the careless. 

But the delights outweighed the perils. After the 
late 1890's people enjoyed the nightly spectacle 
of bears being fed hotel garbage and even helped 
with the feeding, few worrying about the effect on 
the bears or the danger to themselves. Some of the 
early tourists were even honored by the placement 
of their names on the map — in 1873 Mary Lake 
took the name of one of its first visitors, and in 
1891 Craig Pass honored the first woman driven 
over it on a new road. And there was always the 
possibility that a tourist might rub elbows with 
a European nobleman or an American dignitary 
like President Theodore Roosevelt, who toured 
the parkin 1903. 

Some of the tourists availed themselves of 
optional pleasures. Boats offered peaceful tours of 
Yellowstone Lake, while back at Mammoth wild- 
life could be closely observed at the "game corral." 

As a contrast to the elaborate hotels, rustic 
tent camps provided simple but comfortable ac- 
commodations among the trees. Uncle John 
Yancey's "Pleasant Valley Hotel" hosted team- 
sters and U.S. Senators alike. Uncle John, accord- 


President Theodore Roosevelt paused at Liberty 

Cap, Mammoth, with an aide 

during his long tour of Yellowstone in 1903. 

This group, visiting in 1904, seems unimpressed 
by the thermal spring. 



Busloads of visitors, fresh from a 

Northern Pacific train, enter the 

park through the Gardiner arch in 1927. 

■^.^. - «mililiii.tTii 


Though automobiles drove horse-drawn 

coaches from the roads, visitors who still 

wanted a Grand Tour could go by "motor coach,' 

as these Italian bishops did in the 1920's. 

Lone Star Geyser in the 1920's. 


ing to one patron, was a "goat-bearded, shrewd- 
eyed, lank, Uncle Sam type," whose unkempt 
hotel offered those of simpler tastes welcome relief 
from the opulence of the great resorts in the 
park. And one guest noted that "A little bribe on 
the side and a promise to keep the act of crimi- 
nality a secret from Uncle John induces the maid 
to provide us with clean sheets." The affability 
of Uncle John was later matched by the whole- 
some friendliness of Uncle Tom Richardson, 
who served splendid picnics at his trail into the 

Altogether, touring Yellowstone was a pleasant, 
if arduous, experience. But the reactions of some 
visitors were not always what might be expected, 
according to a stage driver: "I drive blame curious 
kind of folk through this place. Blame curious. 
Seems a pity that they should a come so far just 
to liken Norris to hell. Guess Chicago would have 
served them, speakin' in comparison, just as 
good." In keeping with the unspoken rules of the 
wealthy tourist's social class — which required a 
calm demeanor at all times — few of the many 
photographs taken during Grand Tours show 
smiles on the dignified faces posed among the na- 
tural wonders. Yet the "dudes" carried home 
memories of experiences and sights that were un- 
forgettable. They recommended the tour to their 
friends, and each year more of them came to 
Yellowstone to gaze upon its wonders. 

But as increasing wealth and technological 
progress enabled more of the public to travel, 
Yellowstone could not remain an idyllic resort 
for the few. The first automobile entered Yellow- 
stone in 1902, only to be evicted because regula- 
tions had already been adopted to exclude such 
conveyances. Yet "progress" could not be staved 
off forever. Over the years the pressure mounted. 
Political favor swung toward cars, and many peo- 
ple foresaw benefits in admitting them to the park. 
Accordingly, in 1915, the Secretary of the Interior 
made the fateful decision, and on July 31 of that 

year cars began to invade Yellowstone. Although 
they were severely regulated and a permit was 
expensive, their numbers increased steadily, forc- 
ing the concessioners to replace their stages with 
buses. Horses were relegated to the back country, 
while many of the tent camps, hotels, lunch sta- 
tions, and eventually all but one of the transporta- 
tion companies disappeared. They were replaced 
by paved roads, parking areas convenient to scenic 
attractions, service stations, and public camp- 
grounds to accommodate the growing number of 
motorized visitors. 

But the automobile changed more than just the 
mode of touring the park. No longer just a vaca- 
tion spot for the wealthy, Yellowstone became a 
truly national park, accessible to anyone who 
could afford a car. Without resorting to the con- 
cessioners, visitors could now pick their own way 
around the park, see what they wanted, take side 
trips, and camp in one place as long as they liked. 
But never again would a visitor be a pioneer ex- 
plorer, facing an unknown wilderness, leaving his 
name on the map. For better or worse, a new day 
was beginning. The time lay far in the future 
when the car would appear as an enemy threaten- 
ing to suffocate the park; meanwhile, it was all to 
the good. Thanks to this noisy, smoking, 
democratic vehicle, Yellowstone was now truly 
a "pleasuring-ground" for the people — all of them. 

The legacy 


The generation that set aside Yellowstone Na- 
tional Park created more than anyone could have 
foreseen at the time. The establishment of the 
park was initially a negative reaction to the pros- 
pect that this wondrous region might be divided 
and exploited for private ends, thereby denying it 


The first automobiles to cross Sylvan Pass, 
July 4, 1915. 

The compleat camper, 1924 style. 


Few visitors could resist the temptation to 
drink from Appollinaris Spring. 


Enjoying the pleasures of Fishing Bridge 

in the early 1920's. Expensive petticoats 

and parasols no longer predominate among 

visitors to Yellowstone. 

Suppertime in an auto camp, 1921. 


to others. The founders determined that Yellow- 
stone should be reserved for the "benefit and 
enjoyment" of all. Over a half century, the 
practicalities of what such a national park should 
be were worked out. 

Yet Yellowstone was always more than a 
place for a frolic in the wilderness. The park was 
something to be proud of, and its creators ex- 
hibited their pride throughout their lives. It was 
a pride that came not from "civilizing" the 
wilderness but from knowing that a place of wild 
beauty had been preserved. Yellowstone was, as 
they saw it, their gift to the people. 

But their gift was greater than even they 
realized at the time. The years have shown that 
their legacy, the establishment of Yellowstone 
National Park, led to a lasting concept — the 
national park idea. This idea conceived the 
wilderness to be the inheritance of all the people, 
who gained more from an experience in nature 
than from private exploitation of the land. In 
time, the idea blossomed in the form of many 
new national parks, begotten in the same spirit as 

The national park idea was part of a new view 
of the Nation's responsibility for the public 
domain. By the end of the 19th century, many 
thoughtful people no longer believed that 
the wilderness should be fair game for the first 
persons who could claim and plunder it. Its fruits 
were the rightful possession of all the people, 
including those yet unborn. Besides the 
areas set aside as national parks, still greater 
expanses of land were placed into trusteeship in 
national forests and other reserves so that the 
country's natural wealth — in the form of lumber, 
grazing, minerals, and recreation — should not be 
consumed at once by the greed of a few, but 
should perpetually bestow its rewards. 

The preservation idea, born in Yellowstone, 
spread around the world. Scores of nations have 
preserved areas of natural beauty and historical 

worth so that all mankind will have the oppor- 
tunity to reflect on their natural and cultural 
heritage, and to return to nature and be 
spiritually reborn in it. 

Of all the benefits from Yellowstone National 
Park, this may be the greatest. 


ft U. S. GOVERNMENT PRINTING OFFICE : 1972 O - 469-919 

For sale by the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office 

Washington, D.C. 20402 - Price $1 

Stock Number 2405-0486 

As the Nation's principal conservation agency, 

the Department of the Interior has basic responsibilities 

for water, fish, wildlife, mineral, land, 

park, and recreational resources. Indian and 

Territorial affairs are other major concerns of America's 

"Department of Natural Resources." 

The Department works to assure the wisest choice 

in managing all our resources so each will make 

its full contribution to a better United States — 

now and in the future. 

National Park Service